The Whitaker family from Odd, West Virginia, is arguably the most famous inbred family in the United States. We know little about the family due to the Whitakers secretive nature and the protection they receive from neighbors and local authorities.
Mark Laita brought the family to international recognition when he photographed them for his book Created Equal in 2004. He faced threats from neighbors as he tried to photograph the family and had to explain himself before locals allowed him to proceed.
Laita visited The Whitaker family again in 2020 and recorded a viral video of his visit.
The Whitaker’s family inbreeding may have caused their mental and physical defects
The Whitaker family’s secrecy makes creating a family tree nearly impossible. Researchers rely on self-reporting inbreeding to generate family trees as ethical barriers hinder the gathering of family data without permission.
During Mark’s 2020 interview with the Whitaker family, we see him interact with Lorraine, Ray, and Timmy. The three can’t offer coherent answers as they have an undiagnosed mental condition.
The family lives in a decrepit house and appears unkempt, giving the video a sad feeling. It’s unlikely that the family members work, and given the low average yearly income in southwestern West Virginia, we suspect that the family struggles to get by.
Mark Laita offered the Whitaker family food and money to demonstrate his good intentions. He writes:
“To be clear about my interaction with the family, I brought them pizzas and soft drinks and paid them nicely, which goes a long way in southwestern West Virginia where the average yearly income is as low as $12K a year in some counties. This was my fourth visit and I’ve given the family a financial gift each time.”
A report by Discover Magazine found that inbred offspring suffer from reduced cognitive abilities and lung function and are at greater risk from diseases in general. It also found that inbred children are ‘at a high risk of rare recessive genetic disorders.’
A medical professional is yet to examine The Whitakers, but many believe that their health issues stem from inbreeding. Mark Laita writes:
“The individuals in this video are brothers and sisters, except for Timmy who is a cousin. There is no way I would be able to confirm that the Whitaker parents were related, but given that this does happen in this part of the country and the Whitakers are the most extreme case I’ve seen so far, I would bet that inbreeding was at least partly responsible for the mental and physical abnormalities seen in Lorraine, Freddie, Ray, and Timmy.”
The Whitakers’ story is an intriguing mystery that we may never crack. All we can do is speculate until the family opens up about its history. Meanwhile, Mark Laita warns curious people to stay away:
“I strongly discourage anyone attempting to look for the Whitakers as their armed neighbors and the Raleigh County deputies both make it clear that curious visitors are not welcome.”